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Participatory Budgeting Meets Arts-Based Community Development

Editor’s Note:  Participatory budgeting began in Brazil 25 years ago and has since rapidly spread across the globe–with examples in the U.S. slowly gaining traction.  The basic idea is that government sets aside a pool of money over which a community has full decision-making power.  An independently facilitated vetting and voting system ensures that all idea and voices are heard before citizens cast a final vote.  This article describes a suburban Cleveland community that has used participatory budgeting to engage residents around arts funding that is revitalizing the city.

This working-class community on Lake Erie has already invested heavily in arts-based community development projects—$500,000 in the last five years—in part because following a decline in manufacturing jobs and a wave of mortgage foreclosures, artists have been moving to the area and helping to rebuild the community. But until now, arts-based community projects were juried by expert panels, not by the people the projects were intended to benefit. As Brian Friedman, executive director of Northeast Shores explains, “We were always challenged by the question of how we get the community more engaged in the actual decision-making process. The panel review process, while a perfectly valid way to do things, hasn’t frankly met the expectations of the neighborhood to make sure it’s really a transparent process.” Working with the board of elections further legitimized the transparency of the process.

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